Translating the Gospel to Our Lives
Part 3: Free to Live
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Welcome back, I hope you have all had a nice time with friends and resting. I’m going to give us a quick review of what we have looked at so far. And then we are going to dive right in.
So, this weekend we’re answering the question: How does the Gospel transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? First, we talked about how the gospel speaks to us about God’s love for us and how His love for us is meant to permeate our lives everyday. Then this morning we talked about how the message of the gospel teaches us about our union with Christ and how that applies to our sin nature and living freed from sin.
And as we finished our study in Romans 6 this morning, we briefly touched on Paul’s call to the Romans to embrace that new life in Christ, offering themselves as instruments of righteousness, living their lives for God under grace. And that is what we are going to be focusing on this afternoon, this call on our lives to live the new life and what that looks like. Or in the form of the question we are asking this weekend: How does the gospel transform our lives day to day in light of God’s grace and our call to new life?
We’re going to be in Romans 7 and 8. So go ahead and turn there if you’re using your Bible, or you can follow along on the handout.
The Struggle to Live Free
So after dealing with our struggle to live free from sin despite the freedom from sin we have been given, Paul is now going to look at the tension that exists between our sin nature which we still battle with and our call to live for God in righteousness. He’s going to deal with the issue of still being prone to sin despite being free from sin’s control over us. We are freed from the control of sin but we still battle sin’s temptation. And the truth is, this is a tension that is hard for us to reconcile. So Paul lets his readers know that he struggles with it as well. He’s going to be very honest about his own struggle with sin and his inability to conquer it on his own in order to live for God. And he’s going to paint a picture that we can all relate with. So let’s look at what he says, starting in Romans 7, verse 18…
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
A quick side note about what Paul says here. There has been a long standing debate over whether he is talking about our struggle with sin before we are in Christ or our struggle with sin after we are in Christ. But most likely, he is talking about the latter, the tension that still remains after we are in Christ, so that’s how we’re going to view this passage.
Now as we look at Romans 7 I hope that you’re as thankful as I am that it’s in the Bible, because if it weren’t I think we would all walk around feeling ashamed that we still battle sin within us. But Paul being Paul highlights it so that we can’t ignore it or try to hide it. How many of you have ever told someone else that you have the “desire to do what is right” but not the “ability to carry it out?” Have you ever told anybody that? How many of you have told a friend or even your own child, “nothing good dwells in me” and I keep doing all this evil that I really don’t want to do? You probably haven’t!
The truth is, we don’t sit around talking about the sinful thoughts we have on a daily basis or the un-Christian things we do each day, we almost ignore those un-holy moments in our lives because we aren’t quite sure how they fit into being a new creation in Christ. So Paul wants us to know that it’s common to all believers to struggle with this tension. And he shares this in hopes that it will cause us to be honest about our sin and our inability to live in the freedom we have in Christ, because he knows that without that understanding we will never learn to live our lives dependent on the Lord.
So he goes on to talk about this…look at verse 21…
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…
Paul wants to do good, he wants to offer himself to righteousness and live in the newness of life we have in Christ. See, when we are made new in Christ we are given new desires. So struggling against sin is actually proof that our hearts have been made new. The reason we struggle with guilt and shame is because God has put in us the desire to live for Him which causes us to recognize sin and long to live free from it. We recognize Christ in us when we think and feel this way. It’s actually something to celebrate, not something to be ashamed of! In verse 23 Paul recognizes that there is now a war waging inside of him between his new desires and the sin which still exists. Paul understands that he has been freed from the reign of sin but now he’s trying to reconcile this tension he feels. Sometimes we know the truth but we struggle to translate it to our lives, that’s what Paul is trying to think through here.
And it’s frustrating, so in verse 24 he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”. But immediately, almost without a moment of hesitation, he shouts out the answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answer is Jesus. Paul knows that not only did Jesus free us from sin’s control over us, but He also provides us the way to live free from sin, to not only desire to do good, but also the ability to do good. Paul doesn’t want to leave us for even a moment in a place of gloom and doom because He knows that in Christ we don’t need to dwell in that place any more!
Try to think of a time when you were really struggling with this tension in your own life. Maybe you can even think of a time in the last few days when you wanted to do the right thing, but you didn’t. When the power of sin just felt too great and so you gave in. Just like Paul, we know the answer, it’s Jesus. But often we get stuck in the place where we can only see how wretched our sin is and we don’t understand how to live free from it, how to live free for God. So now Paul is going to help us understand what to do from there, how to live in the freedom Christ has won for us in light of this struggle.
And what Paul is going to allude to in this next part is what theologians call “the now and the not yet” or the “already but not yet.” This means that we are saved from sin and death now or already, but the complete fulfillment of that will not be realized in us until the end, so, not yet. There will be a day when sin no longer exists and has no affect over us. But until then, in the now, our freedom from sin is ours but also requires a dependency on something greater than us. This is what Paul is explaining in chapter 8, how to live in the now, in light of the not yet.
The Law of Sin vs. The Law of the Spirit
Starting at the end of chapter 7, Paul begins his explanation of what this looks like, verse 25…
25 …So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law [the Mosaic Law], weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
In verse 1 Paul starts by reassuring us that regardless of this tension in our lives, our spiritual standing hasn’t changed. And Paul does this because he knows that when we continue to sin despite being free from sin, at some point, we are all going to wonder if we are really saved after all. So he hammers home the truth that we do not stand condemned despite our failure to be able to resist sin, despite as Paul said, doing the evil that we do not want to do.
Then in verse 2 he explains why…It’s because we have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the spirit of life. If by “the law of sin and death,” he is referring to our “old self” that was ruled by sin which led to death (what we talked about this morning), then what does Paul mean when he says “the law of the spirit of life”? This is what he’s explaining to us here in chapter 8.
So in verses 3 and 4 he first explains that when we were under the law of sin and death, we were unable to uphold God’s law, the Mosaic law, because of our sin and flesh. But, when God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we were set free from the law of sin, in order that we could live under the law of the Spirit. So what Paul is saying is that we weren’t just released from the law of sin so that we could live for God on our own. But instead, we were released in order to live under another law, a law that would give us life instead of death. Where once sin leading to death ruled over us, now the Spirit rules over us giving us life. So there has been a transfer of power.
This means that in order to not live under the rule of sin, we must learn to live under the rule of the Spirit. This is how we live freed from sin and alive to God, by living, or as Paul says “walking”, by the “law of the Spirit”.
The Law of our Minds
So what is the law of the Spirit and how do we live by it? Look at verses 5-8, Paul explains…
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Mind set on the Flesh:
Back in chapter 7, verse 23, Paul said that there’s a war being waged within him against the “law of his mind”, and here in verse 5 he is now explaining what the “law of our minds” is. He begins by explaining that those who live according to the flesh have set their minds on the things of the flesh. The NIV translates that verse saying those who live by the flesh set their minds on “what the sin nature desires.” So those who continue to live as if they are slaves to sin have also filled their minds with selfish and sinful thoughts instead of the things of God. Their minds have been set on what their flesh desires.
Now, as women I think this concept isn’t too hard to understand. We tend to dwell on things and let them fester in our hearts and minds, sometimes even years after we thought we had gotten past them. I’m sure we have all had something that has bothered us, recently even, that falls into this category. Try to think of ways you set your mind on the things of the flesh and sin instead of the things of the spirit and life? What are some of the things you dwell on? Maybe jot those down on your handout.
Example: Difficult Friendship
I could probably give you a million current examples in my life, but one that really comes to mind is simply a friendship that has been difficult for me. Years ago I felt wronged and hurt by this friend. So, in a loving way I shared with her how I felt. But she was very defensive, never apologized, and was not willing to even talk about it. So, I prayed a lot about it and truly forgave her for how she hurt me.
But at times I find my mind drifting back into it…I find myself sometimes starting to create drama with her in my head or thinking of how I would like the opportunity to put her in her place, even scrutinizing things she says or does today in order to “uncover” her wrong motives and personal flaws, making myself angry all over again. My mind is set on the things of the flesh. And then suddenly I will “wake” up from going down that road in my mind and remind myself that I have forgiven her and that those thoughts are not from the Lord, they are set on what my flesh and sinful nature desires.
Maybe you have something similar to that in your life? A relationship that has been difficult, whether with a friend or a family member. Or simply a situation that you dwell on often. And as you set your mind on the things of your sin and flesh, it just seems to never heal or end.
This is what Paul explains here in verses 6-8, what happens when we set our minds on the things of the flesh:
- In verse 6 he says that to set the mind on the flesh is death. It never results in life, but always results in death.
- In verse 7 he says that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and not submitted to God’s law, how He calls us to live. You see, when we set our minds on the desires of our flesh, we are returning to the ways of our “old self”, the one who was described in Romans 5 as being an enemy of God, the one who we learned this morning has no control over us. And Paul says there at the end of verse 7 that when we set our minds on the things of the flesh we are actually unable to live for God or submit to His will. And verse 8 says, when we do that, we can’t please God.
- Think about that. What Paul is saying is that our minds and our lives go hand in hand. The “law of our minds” is simply this, that if our minds are set on sin, we will walk in sin. If our minds are set on the things of the flesh, then we will be unable to live for God, submit to his will, or please Him.
- With my friend who hurt me, when I allow myself to think those thoughts about her, I feel my heart and soul dying, there is a loss of joy and peace and life. And when I fill my mind with those sinful thoughts and desires then I am unable to honor God with my actions towards her. My thoughts will determine the way I treat her.
Mind set on the Spirit:
But because of the grace of God, because of our union with Christ, we have another choice, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. And as Paul says, those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit, will be able to live according to the Spirit. This is also the law of the mind, that when our minds are set on the Spirit and the things the Spirit desires, our lives and actions will reflect that.
This is why as Paul begins to explain to us how to live for God by walking in the Spirit, he first starts with our minds. It is very important that we understand that in order to live for God our minds must also be set on the things of God. This is why later in Romans 12 Paul will tell the Romans that in order to “…not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” they must be “transformed by the renewing of [their] mind[s].” Our minds are renewed as we set them on the things of God, resulting in changed lives and actions.
And just as when we set our minds on the things of the flesh it results in death, when we set our minds on what the Spirit desires it results in “life and peace.” And I’m sure we have all experienced this. Can you remember a time when you submitted your mind to the things of the Spirit and it resulted in life and peace? When you recognized that your mind was being dominated by sinful thoughts so you re-set your mind on the things of God and immediately felt God’s peace flow over you?
With that friend I struggle with, when I do remind myself that I have forgiven her and that those sinful thoughts will only lead to death….and then set my mind on the things of God, the things the Spirit desires, it always results in life and peace. Only when I set my mind on the things of God am I then able to love her and enjoy her friendship, seeing her as God sees her and no longer dwelling on my own sinful and selfish desires. And I am always amazed when God does this for me because it is so contrary to my own selfish desires. No matter how long you have been a believer, it is always so shocking to experience this, it is always so humbling. And when we do this God is glorified and the gospel is truly lived out in our lives.
In Colossians 3:1-3 Paul emphasizes this same idea, he says…
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
There is a war going on in our minds, the flesh and the spirit are battling for control, and the winner wins control over how we live, over our actions. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we must learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Because we are in Christ and have died and been raised with Him, we are able to take captive every thought, to set our hearts and our minds on the things above, the things of God, and not on the things of this world and our flesh. And in this seemingly “small” action, we are truly allowing the gospel to transform our lives.
The Law of the Spirit
But we know, this is not something we are able to do on our own. It is not by our own strength and ability that we are able to live free from sin. And it is not by our own strength and ability that we are able to set our minds on the things of God in order to live for Him. So, Paul emphasizes now the law of the Spirit, which explains the role of the Spirit as we do this. Look at verses 9-11…
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
The NIV translation begins verse 9 saying, “you…are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” If we are “in Christ” then we are also “in the Spirit.” The truth that Paul wants the Romans to understand is that those who have put their faith in Christ have been raised to life in Christ and received the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of God is now dwelling in them.
So then in verse 10 Paul explains that although sin is still present, so is the Spirit! And in verse 11 Paul emphasizes what that means that the Spirit of God is in them.
- He explains that this Spirit that is dwelling in them is the same one who conquered death, raising Jesus from the dead. So in other words, the Spirit is pretty powerful, and actually, since it conquered death it has proved it’s the most powerful force in this world.
- And that Spirit, that all powerful Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, Paul says, dwells in us….inside of those who are “in Christ.”
- So Paul says, that means, that if the Spirit could raise Jesus to life, then it can also give life to our bodies that are otherwise dead because of sin. The Spirit in us leads us and empowers us to live in the new life we now have in Christ. In other words, if the Spirit is in us then we can live for God! We are able!
- The Spirit enables us to live freed from sin and alive to God, to set our minds on the things of God in order to live by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 tells us,
16 “…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (NIV)
It is by the Spirit that we are able to resist our temptation towards sin and not gratify the desires of our flesh. So as we live by the Spirit and set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we are able to “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”, and therefore, submit to God’s will and please Him. Just as we were once ruled by sin and followed it’s desires, we are now to be ruled by the Spirit and follow it’s desires. This is truly how the gospel is meant to transform our lives everyday, by enabling us through the Spirit, to live for God.
And this is “the law of the Spirit of life.” That those who are in Christ have been set free from the law of sin and death and now live under the rule of the Spirit of God, who empowers us to resist sin’s temptation and enables us to instead set our minds on the things of God and live for Him, giving us life and peace. And our role in this is to offer ourselves to God to be used for righteousness and then actively resist sin’s temptation, all through the power of the Spirit in us.
So what this means for our day to day lives is that although we live in this tension between being freed from sin yet still prone to sin, we are empowered by the Spirit in us to live for God.
Example: My Sister’s Wedding
My older sister got married last month and sadly, my relationship with my sister has never been easy or enjoyable. She is four years older than me and since we were young she has never shown a desire to have a friendship with me and has treated me rather harshly. And I have struggle over the years with how to respond to her. So when she got engaged last Fall, my husband and I talked about how to support her and be loving, trying to prepare ourselves for the petty things she might say or do towards me during her engagement and wedding.
And just a month later we were faced with our first trial. We received her “Save the Date” card in the mail and there was a wedding web page on it. I am sad to say, as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what was about to happen. So I braced myself and typed in the web page, and sure enough, she had published the wedding party. Without a word to me about her decision, she had asked every single person in my family and her fiancé’s family, including boyfriends and children, to be in the wedding party, except for me. And I knew, without a doubt, it was meant to hurt me. And we all know our siblings can push our buttons and get under our skin like no one else can!
But regardless of how she had intentionally meant to hurt me, I knew that being in Christ meant responding differently in situations like this. And as Michael and I discussed how we would respond to this, the one thing that kept going through my mind was that I wanted to show her, and anyone else who might be watching, that there is a different way to live. That Christ does make a difference in our lives. But of course there was a war waging inside of me. I also wanted so badly to put her in her place, to tell her how petty and hateful she was, to tell our relatives the truth about the situation and why I wasn’t in the wedding. But that is not how Christ calls us to respond in situations like that and the Spirit was also speaking to my heart.
So we made a resolve, that no matter what, we were committed to living out God’s Word, to turning the other cheek, to loving our enemy. And we pressed on, straining to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, to not live according to our sinful desires, and to live instead in the newness of life that Christ had died to give us.
So over the next few months, when my mind started down the road of destructive and slanderous thoughts towards my sister, the Spirit of God within me gave me the strength to stop that train of thought and instead to fill my mind with God’s Word and truth, not giving sin that power over me. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead was able to give life to me so that I was able to live for God. When my thoughts were fixed on the things of God, my actions reflected that. The Spirit not only empowered me to set my mind on God, but also to actually live for God.
It wasn’t easy, but let me tell you, in the end it was so worth it. Not only were we filled with peace and joy over knowing we had done the right thing, and that we had pleased God, but a few weeks after the wedding I received the most incredible reward I could have ever asked for. My father sent Michael and I an email, saying that he had noticed how we had responded and that he felt our response is what had kept the peace in the family throughout the weekend. My family, who does not know Christ, saw Him in us, and it impacted them and truly showed them there is a different way to live. That Christ really does make a difference in our lives here on earth. God was glorified and the gospel was lived out for others to see. And that’s what it looks like to live in the newness of life that Christ gave us.
Have you ever experienced that in your life? A time when you knew it was through the power of the Spirit of God in you that you were able to stop sin in its tracks and set your mind and life on what pleases God? Maybe there’s an area of your life right now where you’re struggling to do that? Is there a relationship or situation in your life in which you have not set your mind on the things of the Spirit, but instead you’re focusing on the things of the flesh leading to a failure to live for God? Do you realize that since you are “in Christ” you have the power of the Holy Spirit within you to enable you to live for God instead of for your sinful desires?
This afternoon as we ask the question, “How does the gospel transform our lives day to day in light of God’s grace and our call to new life?” The answer is that the gospel transforms our lives as we learn to live and walk by the Spirit. And we begin by setting our minds not on the things of our flesh and of our old self, but instead on the things of God. And as we do that, the Spirit will enable us to live for God, to pursue righteousness, and to live a new life in Christ.
As we close now I just want to briefly tie together all that we have talked about this weekend. How does the gospel transform our lives each and every day?
- First, it tells us of God’s love for us which empowers us to live for Him, gives us peace and joy, and gives us perspective in our lives.
- It also tells us of our union with Christ which frees us from sin’s control over us…so that we will no longer let sin reign over us but instead live free from sin and alive to God.
- And it tells us that through our union with Christ we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, empowering us to set our minds on the things of God and enabling us to live for God in the new life Christ has given us.
This is the gospel. And we need it everyday. As Thomas Watson talked about in the quote we looked at last night, our lives are full of things that dull our senses making it hard for us to move towards God each day. But the gospel brings us back, it softens our hearts and reminds us of these truths that wake up our souls and help us to live for God in the everyday moments of our lives.
In last year’s blockbuster movie, “The Help”, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie is of Aibileen, the housekeeper, talking to the baby girl she takes care of, Mae Mobley. Aibileen is sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery wiht Mae Mobley in her lap facing her. And Aibileen slowly says to her, in her sweet southern accent, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” And then she repeats it as Mae Mobley says it with her. And the reason Aibileen does this is because this little girl is very neglected and mistreated by her mom, so everything that matters in Mae Mobley’s life is telling her the exact opposite. If she listened to the voice of her mother she would believe that she is stupid and worthless. But this is not the truth, so to counter the lies she is bombarded with, Aibileen repeats this to her everyday so that no matter what the world may tell her, she will always have that truth planted deep within her.
And that is what I hope for each of you. That the truth of the Gospel, which we have been reminded of this weekend, will be planted deep in your hearts. That you would remember it each and everyday. Living in this fallen world where you do still battle your sin and flesh, you will be tempted to believe that God does’t love you, that you aren’t free from sin’s control over you, that no matter how hard you try you can’t live for God. This is why you must continue to remind yourself of the gospel everyday. Because no matter what the world tells you, the gospel will continue to tell you the truth…You are loved. You are free. And you are able.
Questions for Personal Reflection:
- Is there a current situation or relationship in which you are dwelling on the things of the flesh?
- In this situation/relationship (and others), how can you “set your mind on the things of the Spirit” instead of the things of the flesh? What spiritual disciplines help us to do this?
- Read 2 Corinthians 5:15-17. What does it mean to “regard no one according to the flesh”? (ESV) Based on what we talked about this weekend, what does it mean that you are a new creation?